Steve Barton fondly remembers his dad as an upbeat clown. Barton’s dad would blow kisses at people when he walked into a room. To him, things weren’t just good—they were “fantastic.” He referred to a cramped apartment Barton once lived in as “chic” and “Parisian.” Barton’s fondest memories are of when his dad, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, would take him out to lunch and then to a film screening at the academy.
Not long before Dan Barton died in 2009, he told his son he loved him and gave a piece of advice that the guitarist still carries with him.
“Just remember, have fun,” Dan Barton said. “Just have a good time.”
Steve Barton says he’ll stay positive for his next album. For now, the 57-year-old is still figuring out his next step for Projector, a 13-song personal document of his life just after his dad’s death almost three years ago. The album was physically released on CD April 10. Additionally, the Los Angeles resident is getting the word out on Big Green Lawn, the first album released by his rock band, Translator, in 26 years.
And Barton is looking forward to working on another album with his regular band, The Oblivion Click. All these projects keeping Barton busy has led him to dub 2012 “the year of Steve.” Projector started as 18 Tom Waits-esque demos played for Barton’s friend, Marvin Etzioni, co-founder of country rock outfit Lone Justice.
Etzioni, who produced the final product, suggested Barton play all the instruments heard on the album to keep the project personal and record on tape to maintain a warm and immediate feeling. Barton also used the Guild X50 guitar given to him by his grandfather, and the music video for the song, These 4 Walls, was filmed in his childhood home.
“It’s very honest,” Barton says. “It’s the most ‘me’ sounding record I’ve ever made.”
But recording wasn’t the stressful part of the project. Instead, Barton was strained by the constant reminder of his dad. The emotional duress was so bad, he experienced migraines in the studio. While not all the album’s songs are directly about Barton’s dad, they were written while he was sick in a hospital and up until a month after he died. Inside the CD is a picture of Barton’s dad at age 17, when he was just starting a career as a voice actor for radio.
According to a Variety obituary, Dan Barton died Dec. 13, 2009 at age 88 of heart failure and kidney disease.
Steve Barton says Projector only took five days complete, due to extensive pre-production planning, and was released online in 2010.
“I find the record very hopeful,” he says. “It’s such a personal statement about loss. Maybe it can be helpful for someone going through that.”
This was the second time Barton’s used music to deal with the death of a parent. After his mom, actress Anne Barton, died in 2000, Barton recorded the album, Charm Offensive, with his regular band, The Oblivion Click. He’ll bring the band back for his next album, of which half the songs are already written.
Barton wants to do a Projector tour akin to English alt-rock singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey’s White Chalk tour. Like how Harvey just performed with her piano and guitar, Barton wants to give audiences a stripped down, emotional performance. Barton says his attention is also on getting a tour started with Translator, his San Francisco four-piece.
Their latest album, Big Green Lawn, is the first music released since the band went on hiatus in 1986. The album includes all original band members—guitarist Robert Darlington, bassist Larry Dekker and drummer Dave Scheff. In the 1980s, Translator’s big hit, Everywhere that I’m Not, got the band shuffled under the catchall “new wave” category. But Barton says he always saw the band as a Beatles-meet-Cream crossover of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll.
Barton says that despite Translator’s inability to break out and his wish that they’d played Europe during their peak, he’s proud of his group’s music and the loyal fan base they’ve garnered. He says fans are concentrated to the group’s base in San Francisco, where Translator played a sold-out show in 2009, pockets of the East Coast and, surprisingly, the Philippines. The last performance Translator did was a secret show in San Francisco. All the members happened to be in the city at the same time so they played a private show for friends and invited guests.
Barton says the performance was casual, not a rock show, just how he’d like the band’s tour to go. He says he’s so close to the band members, they were able to pick up right where they left off in 1986. The only difference was Barton had a smaller amp.
“It was like no time had gone by,” he says. “It’s a part of our DNA, in a way.”
He says that, even though the Internet makes seeking out music easier and more immediate, the importance of live performance hasn’t changed. He considers that Translator’s forte. Barton considers his bandmates his brothers. At the memorial for Barton’s father at L.A.’s Silent Movie Theatre, they played Super Fantastic Guy. The song, from Barton’s Projector, was named for his dad’s descriptor of choice.
Even with all his projects, Barton says he thinks of his dad all the time. He’ll feel his eyes “well up” occasionally when watching a movie. He says grieving is personal but offers some advice for those going through a tough loss.
“It actually does get better,” he says. “It changes into a kind of part of your life.”